Friday, July 31, 2020

Georgia National Guard Activated for Drought Relief

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

In 1986, the southeastern United States was gripped by drought and extreme temperatures that withered crops and threatened livestock. By July, Governor Joe Frank Harris had declared a state of emergency[1]. Facing nearly $150 million in agricultural losses[2] with no relief in sight, the governor turned to the Georgia National Guard.

From July 30 to August 1 nearly 150 Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen delivered more than 1,100 tons of hay to distribution points across the state to feed starving livestock.[3] The Guardsmen fanned out in 32 trucks to points selected by the Department of Agriculture. In north Georgia, the Atlanta-based 277th Maintenance Company delivered hay to Calhoun and Gainesville. Soldiers of the Macon-based 48th Infantry Brigade assisted in the delivery of hay to Macon and Eatonton in middle Georgia while South Georgia received assistance in Swainsboro and Cordele. Airmen of the 202nd Electronic Installation Squadron from Macon, the 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron of St. Simons Island, 116th Tactical Fighter Wing from Marietta, and the 165th Tactical Airlift Group of Savannah provided personnel and vehicles in support of the state-wide effort.
Hay from Illinois and Kentucky is transferred from rail cars to Georgia National Guard vehicles for distribution to Georgia farmers. Georgia Guard Archives.

The hay was transported by rail from Illinois and Kentucky. Over the course of three days, the hay was transferred from nearly 100 railcars to trucks for delivery to points across the state.[4] The Georgia Department of Transportation supplied equipment for the loading and unloading of the hay and the Department of Public Safety provided a Georgia State Patrol escort for each convoy. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency established its mobile command post as an operations center and Bell South Mobility donated cellular phones to facilitate communication between GEMA, the State Farmer’s Market, and other areas of operation.

In addition to the hay brough in by rail, nearly 60 tons tons of hay donated by Wisconsin and Illinois farmers were flown to Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta on Air Force Reserve C-130s July 31, 1986.[5] Seven Georgia National Guard trucks, escorted by Georgia State Patrol conveyed the hay to the Farmer’s Market in Forest Park for distribution.

To support the Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen as they labored in the July heat, volunteers from the Salvation Army and Red Cross provided a ready supply of cold drinks and sandwiches. By the end of the operation, nearly 50,000 bales of hay had been delivered to Georgia’s farmers.[6]

Major General Joseph W. Griffin, Georgia’s Adjutant General, praised the Guardsmen and agency partners at the conclusion of the joint effort.

"A task force of selected equipment and compatible personnel representing every Guard element worked together steadily for three days of state active duty-and got the job done," said Griffin "It was truly a team effort by everyone involved… all of us worked for the common goal of bringing some relief to Georgia farmers."[7]

[1] Georgia Department of Defense Annual Report 1986. Marietta, GA: 1987, 20.
[2] “Drought also takes toll on human spirit.” The Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1986. Reviewed July 28, 2020 at
[3] “Guard 'hayday' gives Ga. farmers a lift.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, August September 1986, 1.
[4] “95-car train hauls tons of hay to state,” The Atlanta Constitution, July 30, 1986, 9.
[5] “Area farmers hope for more donations.” Atlanta Constitution, July 31, 1986, 97.
[6] Guard 'hayday' gives Ga. farmers a lift.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, August September 1986, 1.
[7] Ibid.

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